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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       273
steering-gear and at once performed the corresponding
movement. In its responsiveness it was really like a well-
tuned violin. It was here that Alexei felt in all its acute-
ness his irretrievable loss, the irresponsiveness of his
artificial feet, and he realised that in a machine like
this the best artificial feet, with the best of training,
cannot serve as a substitute for living, sensitive, flexible
The aircraft easily and resiliency cut through the air
and answered to every movement of the steering-gear,
but Alexei was afraid of it. He noticed that when he
veered his feet delayed, did not achieve that harmonious
coordination that an airman acquires like a sort of reflex.
That delay might throw the machine into a spin and prove
fatal. Alexei felt like a hobbled horse. He was no coward,
he was not afraid of being killed, he had gone up without
even making sure that his parachute was in order; but he
was afraid that the slightest blunder would cause his
expulsion from the Fighter Command and tightly close
against him the gates of his beloved profession. He was
doubly cautious, and quite upset when he brought the
machine down; owing to the irresponsiveness of his feet,
he "bucked" so badly that the machine hopped clumsily
on the snow several times.
Alexei alighted from the cockpit silent and frowning.
His comrades, and even the instructor, hiding their em-
barrassment, praised and congratulated him, but this con-
descension only offended him. He waved them aside and,
with a rolling gait and dragging his feet, he limped across
the snow towards the grey school building. To prove a
failure now after he had been in a fighter plane! This
was the worst disaster that had befallen him since that
April morning when his damaged machine struck the tops
of the pine-trees. He missed his dinner, nor did he go in
to supper. In violation of the school regulations, which
strictly prohibited trainees from being in the dormitories
in the day-time, he lay with his boots on his bed, with Us
hands under his head, and nobody who knew of his
grief—neither the orderly nor the officers who passed by
—rebuked him for this. Straehkov looked in and tried to
speak to him, but getting no reply he went away, com-
miseratingly shaking his head.